Institutional assessment efforts should not be concerned about valuing what can be measured but, instead, about measuring that which is valued.
– Trudy Banta, et al., 1996
At the University of Washington, we value the complexity and layering of knowledge and understanding as they develop over time. We also value the diversity of our student body. Our students come to us at different points in their lives, with varied experiences, values, and beliefs, and while they are at the UW, their academic paths and their acquisition of skills and knowledge are also quite diverse. Institutional assessment at UW celebrates that diversity and seeks to understand and improve it by gathering information from a wide range of sources.
Departments and the institutional assessment process
At the UW, assessment of student learning is a bottom-up inferential process, rather than a top-down deductive and prescriptive one. The process always begins in the classroom, moves through departmental assessment of majors, informs the colleges in which those departments reside, and finally, gives us a picture of how well all our students are learning.
Departments report on their learning goals and assessment methods biennially (see Assessment in the Major reports). Also, in recent years, the College of Arts and Sciences Learning Initiative provided foundational support to ongoing departmental work in assessment, and departments with Learning Initiative projects reported progress to the College annually. Unfortunately, this initiative was suspended in 2009 due to statewide budget cuts.
In addition, every academic department completes a self-study every ten years as part of their Academic Program Review. Study guidelines ask departments for assessment information about their undergraduate programs, including use of assessment results in making changes to the curriculum.
The UW’s Data Management and Institutional Research Office makes public UW data in a range of areas in its annual Factbook. Information includes student body composition, admission, retention, and time to degree, as well as information on faculty composition, facilities, and the UW curriculum.
Studies and surveys that cross disciplines
The Office of Educational Assessment (OEA) conducts large studies of undergraduate teaching and learning. The UW Senior Research Study (UW SRS) was a focus group study that examined the research experience of students in 15 UW majors. The UW SRS reported results to each department and then used departmental results as case studies to report on the course-based research experience of UW undergraduates. The UW Study of Undergraduate Learning (UW Soul) used quantitative and qualitative methods to gather information about student growth and change, tracking a cohort of 304 students for four years. The UW Growth in Faculty Teaching Study (UW Gifts), conducted by researchers in the UW’s Undergraduate Academic Affairs and Educational Assessment offices, focused on change in faculty teaching.
OEA has also conducted or assisted in the conduct of a number of surveys that track students’ perceptions of their own experience.
Finally, undergoing regular institutional accreditation helps the UW pull together and analyze information on all its teaching and learning activities. In addition, many academic schools and programs undergo rigorous review processes as part of program-specific accreditation.
Banta, T.W., Lund, J.P., Black, K.E, & Oblander, F.W. (1996). Assessment in practice: Putting principles to work on college campuses. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Beyer, C.H., Gillmore, G.M., & Fisher, A.T. (2007). Inside the undergraduate experience: The University of Washington’s Study of Undergraduate Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.